When word spread that a new movie was coming out this summer, centered around people trapped by alligators in the middle of a hurricane in Florida, movie-goers didn’t know what to expect. Especially considering that Crawl is directed by Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes, Piranha 3D) and produced by the legendary Sam Raimi; it is hard to believe that they made a movie about killer alligators. Fortunately, the result of this collaboration was a surprisingly entertaining and effective horror movie about a broken familial relationship and of course alligators.
The intensely paced opening scene where college swimmers are competing in a relay sets the tone for the entire film. Haley Keller (Kaya Scodelario) loses by two-hundredths of a second to her fellow teammate while dark clouds circle outside. Ironically, their swim team’s name is the Gators. After the loss, she walks off with a determined and angry expression. As she changes in the locker room her sister calls to see if she has heard from their father. After a quick exchange about how Haley and her father (Barry Pepper) have a tough relationship, Haley decides to go check on her father. Reminder, this is all taking place while a dangerous hurricane is making its way towards them. Haley rushes to her father’s house in order to find him before the storm gets worse, as the streets flood with water. When she finds him injured in the crawlspace of her childhood home, she begins to realize that something is not quite right, especially when she discovers they are not the only two down there.
Thus, Aja has constructed the space in which Crawl’s characters will be tormented for the remainder of the film. This is handled masterfully as each jump scare and nail-biting chase scene is compelling. Furthermore, the environment is coherent and easy to follow, even in its darkest moments. Whenever the characters are outside the rain beats down relentlessly against a dull background of storm clouds. Crawl’s sound design is used heavily in these atmospheric moments in order to remind the audience that these characters will never be safe until they evacuate. When Haley enters the crawl space beneath the house as water pours around her, it feels as if she is crawling into her grave. This can be equated to the horror trope of the girl going into the haunted house despite every sign telling her to turn and run. The combined atmosphere of the raging storm outside and the dark, cramped crawl space below make for a terrifying setting. This unshakeable tension never lets up for the film’s 87-minute runtime. Add in the alligators and you have yourself a gripping horror story.
The horror aspects could certainly appear simple to the outside eye, but if the audience is able to surrender themselves to the movie, these mechanics which we are so used to in other horror films become entertaining and engaging. Jump scares are used heavily, however, they are quite effective handled slightly different than other horror movies. By having the film set in water and having an angry alligator as the antagonist, the jump scares are a little more surprising and unpredictable. The jump scares also work because of the constant tension that this movie strives upon. The viewer is under constant stress, always waiting for the next horrible thing to happen. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t, but that’s the thrill of Crawl.
Crawl is absolutely gory, which is expected from an R-rated horror movie, as there are numerous cringeworthy and stomach-churning injuries that will make you gasp. The only unrealistic part of this is how the characters remain upright after some of these injuries. With most of the film taking place with them submerged in water, some of the gore may appear toned down because it is hard to see. That doesn’t stop the water from turning extraordinarily red, however, which makes for stunningly horrific imagery.
The only area in which the movie falters is perhaps with the forced emotional storyline between Haley and her father. After the setup of the beginning portion of the film, an inspirational and overcoming character moment is more than expected to happen. The characters sometimes pause in the middle of extremely intense sequences in order to say something meaningful. This may take some audience members out of the film, but only for a moment because that is how short those emotional pauses are. Crawl’s plotline is helped greatly by the actors’ solid performances and the fact that the movie knows how to balance the time spent on the storyline, as it shifts back to what the audience is actually there for.
Crawl delivers exactly what it promises, and then some. After expecting it to be a campy, unserious movie about killer alligators, the end result became truly effective. The anxious atmosphere of a looming hurricane combined with a tightly enclosed setting makes you want to watch the movie through your fingers because you simply do not want to look away. The fact that none of this tension is released from the moment the film starts until the last frame makes it all the more petrifying of a journey. Crawl isn’t your typical horror movie — but that’s what makes it thrilling, and if you can surrender yourself to the mechanics of the film — then you are in for a hell of a ride.